Taft principal reports academic gains, sees improved school culture


Taft High School principal Mark Grishaber was more than a little impressed with the recent behavior of students during their lunch break.

“I am sitting in the back of the cafeteria and what am I seeing? My kids doing homework,” Grishaber said at the Sept. 13 meeting of the Taft High School Local School Council. “I know we’ve changed the culture of this school.”

Recent gains in academic achievement are related to the improved school culture, according to Grishaber, who is in his third year at the school’s helm. Grishaber has said that students will respond positively if you treat them like adults in part by abolishing unnecessary rules, such as the strict dress code that was dropped in 2014.

It was reported at the meeting that 215 students last spring passed an Advancement Placement exam compared to 133 in 2015 and that 31 students earned an International Baccalaureate Program diploma compared to 19 last year. Many colleges award course credit for passing the exams or earning an international baccalaureate diploma, which requires passing tests in several subjects.

Grishaber also said that 215 of the 250 students in Taft’s Seventh and Eighth Grade Academic Center passed the Chicago Public Schools’ algebra exit exam. Three years ago only about 50 percent of the eighth graders passed the test, he said.

Last school year marked the first time that Taft’s seventh graders also took the test, Grishaber said. Passing is required in order to receive credit for the class in high school.

“All of the numbers are trending up,” Grishaber said.

The school also is realigning its curriculum with the SAT college admissions exam, which will be administered statewide to juniors for the first time next year. To help set the tone for the school year, all Taft personnel, including teachers, custodians and security guards, were given a sample SAT question to answer, Grishaber said.

Meanwhile, it was announced that metal detectors are no longer posted at the school’s main entrance. The detectors may be used for a random screening, Grishaber said.

Parent LSC member Joe McFeely expressed concern that Grishaber had the detectors removed without additional discussions with the council. The council’s Safety and Security Committee plans to discuss the issue at its next meeting.

In June Grishaber told the LSC that he was looking into removing the detectors. He said that it is not feasible to conduct proper searches and expect that all students would get through security lines in time for class, adding that the detectors “give a false sense of security.”

It also was reported that more than 400 students participated in “freshman connection” last summer. The program offers incoming freshmen the opportunity to prepare for the school year by visiting classrooms and participating in a variety of activities.

The program is especially important for students who attended a small private elementary school because it allow them to start forming friendships with those from other schools, Grishaber said. “When they can start school with a couple of friends, it makes all the difference,” he said.

Also at the meeting, it was reported that Taft’s enrollment is 3,244 students, up by about 75 students from last school year.

Parent LSC member Lisa Collyer said that some council members are hoping to meet with Alderman Nicholas Sposato (38th) to discuss reported plans to build a $50 million high school near Irving Park Road and Oak Park Avenue in the Read-Dunning Tax Increment Financing District. The new school would be located in the 38th Ward.

Collyer said that the council is interested in learning how the school could help address overcrowding at Taft.  She said that it is not known if the school system has made a final decision to proceed with plans to build the school.

Also, Taft’s varsity boys’ and girls’ varsity basketball teams will be traveling this school year to Cincinnati to play Taft Information Technology High School. “There are nine different Tafts in the United States,” Grishaber said. “I want to be the number one Taft in the U.S.”

Taft also has signed a contract to play a football game at Soldier Field next year. Last month Taft lost in a game there against Mount Carmel High School in what was touted as a rematch of the 1960 Prep Bowl.

The next LSC meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 18.